Tuesday, 30 September 2014

'Velimir Khlebnikov: Fates of Nations: The New Theory of War', RA.

German artist, Anselm Kiefer's monumental work, 'Velimir Khlebnikov: Fates of Nations: The New Theory of War', installed in the Annenberg Courtyard at the Royal Academy, Piccadilly.  His exhibition runs from 27 September until 14 December 2014.

The work, is one of several inspired by Kiefer's fascination with Russian Futurist, Velimir Khlebnikov (1885- 1922). After years of painstaking study, Khlebnikov concluded that major sea-battles only occurred once every 317 years, and multiples thereof. Anslem Kiefer celebrates this obscure, absurd, intellectual's, magnificent achievement, with a work comprised of two enormous glass vitrines measuring almost 17 meters in length.

This extraordinary work, is both reflective and transparent. Viewers see their own, 'selfies',  and others' reflections, and in this way are submerged in the  seascape.

This work also has an additional resonance for me; Anslem Kiefer's exhibition opening one month, less one day, after the death of my father Commander J.D.Graham R.N., submariner,(1924-2014).

Friday, 26 September 2014

Mesdames' Apartments, Versailles

The daughters of King Louis XV of France, known as the "Mesdames" were allocated apartments leading off Lower Gallery at Versailles in 1752. But only two of the princesses, Adelaide and Victoire, who neither married nor entered a convent, inhabited them until the Revolution.

Princess Victoire (1733-1749) was the seventh child and fifth daughter of Louis XV. As a daughter of the King  she was a Fille de France. Originally known as Madame Quatrieme ( her elder sister died before she was born), she was later known as Madame Victoire. Born at Versailles Princess Victoire was sent away to the Abbey of Fontrevraud, but allowed to return to court at the age of fifteen.

Madame Victoire by Jean-Marc Nattier as "water"

Madame Victoire's Apartment had originally been used by Louis XIV as his bathing suite. What became her first antechamber  in 1769 had been Louis XIV's bathroom, his octagonal bath is now in the Orangery. Madame Victoire's  State Cabinet was originally the Octagon Chamber of Louis XIV's Bath apartment. In 1763 the Mesdames had the room redecorated retaining only the cornice, woodwork in the corners of the room and fireplace of the original decor. A harpsichord, by Blanchet  is a reminder that Madame Victoire was an accomplished musician and that Mozart dedicated his first six sonatas for the harpsichord to her.

In 1767 the antichamber of the Bath Apartment became Madame Victoire' bedroom. The wood work is the work of Antoine Rousseau. In 1769 Perdiez delivered the two corner cupboards which were sold during the Revolution and went to Russia and then to England, from where they were bought back to Versailles in 1982.

The small library, with a false ceiling was originally part of the next door room. This most intimate of little rooms still has shelves lined with books displaying Madame Victoire's coat of arms. The chairs came from Madame Victoire's  Palace of Bellvue, destroyed after the Revolution.

Madame Adelaide, Daughter of France, was the fourth daughter and sixth child of Louis XV. She was to outlive her parents, and all her siblings.

Madame Adelaide by Jean-Marc Nattier as "air"

Madame Adelaide's Private Cabinet had been famous in its earlier incarnation as Madame de Pompadour's Red Laquer Cabinet. After she became the King's mistress in 1745, Madame de Pompadour was allocated the suite of rooms later to be occupied by Madame Adelaide.

Madame Adelaide's Bedchamber had once been the bedroom of the Count of Toulouse, legitimatized son of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan from 1724 until 1737, and then by his son the Duke of Penthievre from 1744 to 1750. Then it became the bedchamber of Madame de Pompadour who died there on 15th April, 1764. Madame Adelaide and her sisters had tried, unsuccessfully  to prevent their father's liason with Madame de Pompadour. They famously despised his last maitresse-en-titre Madame du Barry.

It was Madame de Pompadour who gave Madame Adelaide's State Cabinet its present appearance and the fireplace made of Serancolin marble  was installed for her.

The Hoquetons Salon, so-called after the uniform of the Palace guards who used this room, decorated in 1672 with  trompe-l'oiel representing arms and trophies and statues in false niches. The room had been divided to form two ante-chambers for the use of the Dauphine and for Madame de Pompadour and after her Madame Adelaide. But the division has not been restored.

By 1770 Mesdames Adelaide and Victoire were described as bitter old hags, who spent their days gossiping and knitting in their rooms. They did however alternate with the Countess of Provence in accompanying Marie-Antoinette on official visits. They lived on at Versailles until the day after the Palace was stormed by the army of hungry Parisian women on 6th October 1789, when they left with the rest of the Royal Family. The Mesdames took up residence at the Chateau of Bellvue until in 1791 they left France for Italy. Madame Victoire died in Trieste in 1799, and Adelaide a year later in Rome.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Wallace Monument, Stirling

The Wallace Monument, or more correctly the National Wallace Monument, dominates the country  north of Stirling.  The 67 meter (220') Victorian Gothic tower stands on top of Abbey Craig to commemorate the great 13th century patriot and hero of Scotland. The Monument was largely funded by public subscription, collected in the wake of the great resurgence of Scottish national identity in the 19th century. Financial contributions also came from abroad, including  from Italian nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Completed in 1869 the Monument was designed by architect John Thomas Rochead at a cost of £18 000. The Abbey Craig is said to have been where William Wallace had watched the English army gathering before the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

Pride of place among the historic artifacts on display in the tower is William Wallace's sword. As a measure of the man, his sword is 1.63 meters or 5' 4" long.

It is well worth negotiating the 246 steps of the spiral staircase, apparently, if you have fully functional hips, ankles, heart and lungs, to admire the view from the crown at the top.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Museum, Dunrobin Castle

The Museum at Dunrobin Castle started out as a gazebo or summer house, built in 1732 by William, 16th Earl of Sutherland.

The building, just outside the walled garden, was extended in 1878 by the 3rd Duke of Sutherland to create a private museum.

The 4th Duke of Sutherland and his wife,Millicent enlarged the collection. They were magpie-style collectors who added  bead work from Central Africa, Eskimo fishing equipment and Berber saddlebags. These and a plethora of other objects took their place in the cornucopia of curiosities, beside engraved Pictish stones, bird's eggs, fossils, a slipper belonging to Garibaldi, geological specimens, a (used) handkerchief of Queen Victoria's and the figure head of the 3rd Duke's yacht, 'Catania'.

However  in these days of political correctness it is the sheer scale of hunting trophies, from the bags of the 5th Duke of Sutherland, that take the breath away. It seems no animal was spared the attention of this enthusiastic big-game hunter. Elephant, giraffe, kudu, rhino, frogs, impala and basking sharks; gemsbok, turtles, and warthog compete for wall space with many, many, many other trophies.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014


Eminent Scottish architect Robert Lorimer had the commission of a lifetime when Sir Andrew Noble who had made a fortune from his armaments empire commissioned him to build  a house on the shore of Loch Fyne in Argyll with the brief, 'nothing but the best and hang the expense.' No wonder Lorimer regarded Ardkinglas as his favourite commission, the house is widely recognised as his masterpiece.

Ardkinglas is a house that takes its place harmoniously in the dramatic Highland landscape; Lorimer's romantic conception references late 17th century Scottish vernacular architecture. Above all the house was intended to be practical, designed for comfort, with every modern convenience and luxury afforded by the Edwardian age. It had central heating, electricity and the telephone. But Ardkinglas was never intended to be a permanent residence, merely a holiday home for use as a shooting lodge during the season. 

Loch Fyne and Glen Kinglas 

The only caveat, as conveyed by Sir Andrew's unmarried daughter Lily, had been to proceed as quickly as possible as her father was already in his mid seventies  when work began in 1906. It is astonishing to think that the house was then completed in less than 18 months. Lorimer had a jetty built on Loch Fyne as all the building materials, save the local stone, had to be brought in by sea. Until the 1960's the only road into Argyll, the single track over the Rest and be Thankful Pass was of such steepness that lorries could only ascend in reverse gear. So any alternative was preferable.

Ardkinglas is built around a small open courtyard. The entrance hall is low and inviting,  heated by a large open hearth in the corner of the room. The hall is furnished with a ravishing extending table designed by Lorimer himself. The ground floor was the men's preserve; the Gun Room, Sir Andrew's oval Study, and the Smoking-cum-Billiard Room. In accordance with Lily's wishes there was not to be "an inch of painted paper from one end of the great house to the other." The walls were either panelled or plastered. The decoration of the house is restrained in its ornamentation, its aesthetic quality coming from the highest quality materials and the space.

The origin of the two monkey finials in the Billiard Room at Ardkinglas are unknown. What seems likely is that  they appeared courtesy of the craftsmen employed by Robert Lorimer who had previously worked for him at Formakin  in Renfrewshire; the estate adorned by carved cavorting monkeys.

Also on the ground floor are the kitchens and the servants quarters. The kitchen, scullery and service corridor are tiled and ever practical Lorimer used no right angles, for ease of cleaning.

The Scullery.

A stone staircase leads up to the Morning Room (above the study) and the house's principal interior, the Drawing Room, which has magnificent views over lock Fyne.

This wonderful room, 45' by 22' is dominated by a massive Arts and Crafts  fireplace, which has a lintel carved from a single piece of granite weighing more than five tons.

The ceiling is adorned with one of Lorimer's favoured 17th century style exercises in plasterwork. The central panel, which was one of the few features of the house disapproved of by the family, contains a painting of Apollo in his chariot by Bloomsbury artist Roger Fry, founder of the Omega Workshop.

The drawing room is furnished with not one but two grand pianos and this most musical of families regularly host recitals in this beautiful room.

The principal bedrooms were situated on the first floor. The corridor on the first floor leads to the upper hall, the loggia and the dining room.

Sir Robert Lorimer, like many Arts and Crafts architects designed furniture in a variety of styles. Much of his furniture was made by the Edinburgh firm of Whytock and Reid,  although he liked to think of himself of encouraging other craftsmen, notably the village joiner William Wheeler. 'The only real way to approach design was through a knowledge and appreciation of the material in which your design was to be carried out'; this, he told the Edinburgh Architectural Association was to him the essence of William Morris's teaching. The settle was designed by Lorimer and made by Whytock and Reid fro R.W.R.McKenzie of Earshall in 1893.

The Upper Hall on the first floor is dominated by a massive coat-of-arms above the fireplace. This room is  used for taking tea in the afternoons and for ceilidhs, with dancers flying in between the columns.

The Dining Room has not one but two Georgian tables.

The view of the garden from the north window of the dining room.

Most of the bedrooms on the second floor have pretty plastered and painted ceilings.

The days of Edwardian sporting parties at Ardkinglas came to an end with the death of Sir Andrew Noble in 1915. Subsequently the house ceased to be merely a summer retreat and during the tenure of the late Johnny Noble, Sir Andrew's great-grandson, Ardkinglas became the centre of a flourishing estate based on the company Loch Fyne Oysters that he set up with marine biologist Andrew lane in 1978. He also opened an Oyster Bar across the Loch from Ardkinglas which serves the delicious seafood, fresh oysters, langoustines, smoked salmon , kippers and other delicacies that are known all over the world.